Q: Allah (Exalted be He) says (the meanings of which are translated as):
Then, We sent after them Our Messengers, and We sent ‘Isâ (Jesus) - son of Maryam (Mary), and gave him the Injeel (Gospel). And We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy. But the monasticism which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them, but (they sought it) only to please Allâh therewith, but they did not observe it with the right observance. So We gave those among them who believed their (due) reward; but many of them are Fâsiqûn (rebellious, disobedient to Allâh).
What is the Bid‘ah (innovation in religion) meant in the noble Ayah, and what is the ruling on practicing it? What about a person who made it obligatory on himself to make Istighfar (seeking forgiveness from Allah), Tahmid (saying: “Alhamdu lillah [All praise is due to Allah]”), and invocations a hundred times each morning and evening, yet was not able to maintain this afterwards?
The meant Bid‘ah in this Ayah is monasticism. It is about devoting one’s entire time to worship of Allah and abandoning people altogether to draw closer to Him, seeking to please Him (Exalted be He) through exaggeration in worship. This seclusion is usually accompanied with staying at mountains, churches, cells, hermitages, and the like. Allah did not enjoin the Christians to observe this Bid‘ah i.e. Monasticism, which He neither ordained for them nor legislated. In fact, they themselves invented it out of their desire to please Allah, as they claimed, similar to the Mubtadi‘s (those who introduce innovations in religion) from among this Ummah (nation) who followed their path and introduced into religion invented practices, which Allah neither sanctioned nor ordained. (Part No. 4; Page No. 323) Like their assembling and engaging in Dhikr (Remembrance of Allah) standing in rows or forming circles, whirling and swaying right and left, up and down, with loud shrieks and wailing uttered by the so-called Magadhib (possessed people). These Bid‘ahs also include the celebration of the Mawlid (birthday) of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and other pious people out of seeking Allah’s reward by showing reverence to Prophets and righteous people through these celebrations, and their like that Allah never enjoined on His servants.
Those who invented this monasticism did not abide by it; with the passage of time they could not continue to act upon the devotional worship they invented to get closer to Allah. Allah (Exalted and Glorified be He) reproached them for inventing in religion things unauthorized by Him and for their failure to abide by what they had vowed to do to draw closer to Him (Exalted be He). Had they abandoned these invented acts of worship out of refusal for Bid‘ah and return to truth, they would have won Allah’s rewards. Third: The person who enjoins on himself permissible but non-obligatory acts of worship and offers it in the way prescribed by Islam, abiding by the proper time and number, whether in an unlimited or limited manner, is doing good and it is not considered an act of Bid‘ah, for the act of worship is originally permissible and he offers it the way it should be offered. An example for this is ‘Abduallah ibn Amr ibn Al-‘As’s offering Tahajjud (optional late night Prayer) and fasting a day and breaking fast a day and maintaining this till he (may Allah be pleased with) weakened. When advised to make things easier for himself, he used to say: “I would not abandon an act of worship I used to offer (Part No. 4; Page No. 324) during the lifetime of the Prophet
(peace be upon him).” A person who maintains offering optional acts of worship, having been legislated by Allah, which he has obligated himself to perform, is doing good. Similarly, there is no blame if the person abandons some of the optional acts of worship out of weakness and avails himself of the Rukhsah (concession). However, a person who abandons voluntary acts out of laziness or neglect, has acted contrary to what is duly proper. As for a person who enjoins on himself acts that Allah has not, in the first place, legislated or ordained e.g. Celebrating the birthday of the Prophet, the beginning of a new Hijri year, and the birthdays of righteous people, etc., then such a person is committing Bid‘ah. By the same token, a person who observes the acts of worship which Allah has originally ordained yet does not perform them in the way that Allah has ordained is committing an abominable Bid‘ah as well, for he is offering the act in a way that Allah did not prescribe for His servants. Examples of these Bid‘ahs include people’s gathering to make Dhikr (Remembrance of Allah) at a certain time in one loud voice etc. Allah did not enjoin Dhikr to be offered in this way. The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not make Dhikr in this way and did not tell his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) to do it this way. Had this way of making Dhikr been good, Allah would have enjoined us to perform Dhikr accordingly, His Messenger would have followed it and taught it to his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them). Moreover, had the Companions followed these ways, they would have been reported to us through authentic narrations. This proves that this way of performing Dhikr is an invented Bid‘ah that must be avoided. Now, it becomes clear from all this that it is not permissible for a person to make it obligatory on himself to recite for example Istighfar (seeking forgiveness from Allah) or Tahmid (saying: "Al-hamdu lillah [All praise is due to Allah]") a specific number of times or dedicate a specific time for this. In fact, the person should perform Dhikr at all times as long as it is authentically reported and for any number of times at any time, because the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not confine performing Dhikr to a hundred times only or in the morning or evening specifically. (Part No. 4; Page No. 325) A person who abandons any invented practices in Dhikr out of adherence to the way of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in drawing closer to Allah through what has been authentically reported from him (peace be upon him), without specifying a certain time or number will be rewarded by Allah. As regards the Adhkar (invocations and remembrances said at certain times on a regular basis) that should be done in a specific way, at a specific time, and for a specific number of times, they should be recited as prescribed.May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and Companions.